“Because I Could Not Stop For Death” by Emily Dickinson is a poem about death which shows a ghost’s thoughts about what is happening around her. Like most of Dickinson’s poetry, this was first published posthumously. Contrary to common belief, she was published during her life-time. The belief that she wasn’t published is an exaggeration due to her having written around 1800 poems with only twelve being published throughout various publications.
Dickinson was viewed as eccentric even during her lifetime. She spent most of the time in her room, and when she had guests, she was reluctant to greet them. She constantly wore white, never married, and most of her correspondence with friends happened only through letters.
“Because I Could Not Stop For Death” is a poem about life and death. It speaks of death coming and taking her, her seeing her own life, and then being dead for centuries. She speaks as though it happened like it was yesterday but it has already been so long.
Title: Because I Could Not Stop For Death
Style: iambic-tetrameter quatrains
Rhyme scheme: none
Line-by-line Analysis and Figurative Language
- Because I could not stop for Death – The author didn’t want to die. She wanted to continue doing her own things and enjoying life.
- He kindly stopped for me – / The Carriage held but just Ourselves – / And Immortality. – The carriage is referring to the hearse used to carry her dead body.
- We slowly drove – He knew no haste – Death drove slowly. We sometimes hear that when we are about to die time slows down and our life flashes before our eyes.
- And I had put away / My labor and my leisure too, / For His Civility – She stopped work and having fun. Of course, it’s because she’s dead. But she means that she accepts the reality. “For His Civility” refers to Death and the very nature of how it is unstoppable.
- We passed the School, where Children strove / At Recess – in the Ring – / We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain – / We passed the Setting Sun – This is the part of her life passing before her eyes. She goes through the phases of being a child, having fun, and then the sunset (her death).
- Or rather – He passed us – “He” in this case is referring to the Setting Sun. This is a personification. She’s basically stating that life has ended. There’s no more “light”.
- The Dews drew quivering and chill – / For only Gossamer, my Gown – / My Tippet – only Tulle – It’s now quite cold out. There’s only dew, cobwebs, and a chill. The gown, tippet, and tulle she is describing are the clothing she was put in after she died.
- We paused before a House that seemed / A Swelling of the Ground – It is a “house” in the sense that that is where she will live for the rest of time. She is referring to her grave.
- The Roof was scarcely visible – / The Cornice – in the Ground – She’s continuing to describe the grave.
- Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet / Feels shorter than the Day – It’s already been centuries since her death, yet it feels like only yesterday.
- I first surmised the Horses’ Heads / Were toward Eternity – The “Horses’ Heads” are symbols for arrows.
Poem: “Because I Could Not Stop For Death” by Emily Dickinson
Because I could not stop for Death –
He kindly stopped for me –
The Carriage held but just Ourselves –
We slowly drove – He knew no haste
And I had put away
My labor and my leisure too,
For His Civility –
We passed the School, where Children strove
At Recess – in the Ring –
We passed the Fields of Gazing Grain –
We passed the Setting Sun –
Or rather – He passed us –
The Dews drew quivering and chill –
For only Gossamer, my Gown –
My Tippet – only Tulle –
We paused before a House that seemed
A Swelling of the Ground –
The Roof was scarcely visible –
The Cornice – in the Ground –
Since then – ‘tis Centuries – and yet
Feels shorter than the Day
I first surmised the Horses’ Heads
Were toward Eternity –
Emily Dickinson is well known for her somber style poems. She mentions death in quite a few of her works even when the rest of the writing has nothing to do with it. Nonetheless, this poem does quite well with her imagery, setting, and feel.
Overall, this poem is a good introduction to Dickinson as a poet. It uses her traditional iambs, her traditional unrhymed meter, and her usual impressive tone.